Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Whatever it is, it ain’t baseball

This was one of my old curmudgeon rants in my third weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat. i was correctly criticized for raining on the Boston Red Sox’s World Series Champion parade. i confess my Padres now are doing the same thing, hopefully with the same result, as was done by the winning Red Sox back in 2007. So i think i understand impact of a parade rain. Yeh, my team now also resembles Saruman. Still, major league baseball and other pro sports are out of control, and the crazy money being spent by fans to bulge the pockets of owners and fans is profane.

In Sunday’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports section, Aaron Rodgers, the 2020 MVP quarterback for the Green Bay Packers reportedly described this season as “180 days of having my nose hair scraped.” My thought was what if they had not had a season and devoted those nearly one million COVID tests to folks who were in much greater need than football players, and that doesn’t even count baseball and basketball player tests.

Our priorities remain nonsensical to me.

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over. 

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs. 

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee. 

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers. 

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball. 

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century. 

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters” who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host. 

Fred Russell would be sad but would find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

And yes, if it didn’t cost so much i would still have season tickets for the Padre games…that is, of course, if they will let fans in the stands.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Finalities

October 2007, Column 2. Here’s my second weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat. It’s hard to believe it was 14 years ago, harder yet to believe i haven’t been home for more than two years. Yet i still remember standing at the top of my hill with other neighbors watching that fire, trying to determine if its route would impact us, and having our daughter wake us to see Mount Miguel in flames. That’s when we left and moved to Coronado to stay with our good friends, Peter and Nancy Toennies for one night. Fortunately, we have not had that experience again although wildfires are even more a threat now than they were then. The Southwest corner has its fires and earthquakes, but there are natural and man made disasters everywhere. You just have to choose your poison.

SAN DIEGO, CA – This second weekly column has been tough to write.

In a rare exception from my usual pell-mell, last minute throw-it-together mode of operation, I followed the tenets of making any worthy task a success. I determined the desired outcome as I started; I outlined the important steps and created a timeline for completing those steps; I gathered notes and resources and researched needed missing pieces.

Then came the fires.

I tried to stick to my plan and to my regimen. The fire had a different plan, however. It preoccupied my every sense for three days, even though I only briefly felt true concern for my family or my home. Even if I could have eliminated the overbearing presence from heat, smell, smoke, ash, news reports, incoming phone calls checking on us, or outgoing ones checking on others, the fires pervaded every sensible thought I tried to have on other topics.

This is my sixth start on this column. I wanted to write about connections and memories and good stuff. I am compelled to write about the fires.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. Only seven deaths have been reported so far.

The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local news program, it was revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Returning from our evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and place them back from whence they came. We must clean ash on and in the home without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

As I started on those five other columns, I attempted to escape the fires. Early this morning, I realized I needed some closure.

Of all of the horrible statistics of devastation and costs and of all of the reports of bravery, kindness, futility, anger, meanness, selfishness, and the other aspects of human nature, I have been most intrigued with a whole bunch of people, including me, dealing with finality.

Many people dealt with the prospect of finality in many different ways.

There’s an old adage about living every day as if it were going to be your last. Yet most of the three million people in San Diego County refused to believe it was their last day. 

Many ignored the evacuation orders and stayed behind. Some decided they did not trust the government to do its job. Some thought their presence would protect their homes. Some refused to leave their pets and livestock. Some valued their possessions more than life itself.

Learning from the 2003 fires, the ordered evacuations were more successful this time. One of the reasons was most of the evacuation centers in 2003 did not allow pets. With no where to go without their pets, people refused to evacuate. This time, the evacuation centers allowed pets as much as possible and had pet care built into the evacuation plans.

Of the half million who chose to put more days between them and finality, there were also many diverse reasons for doing so, and many different ways of going about it.

Some panicked and simply left seeking shelter somewhere. Some had planned thoroughly beforehand and methodically carried their plan out. Some like our family had pieces of the plan in place and tried to stay ahead of the curve, tried to make wise choices based on the information at hand and assessing the risks and benefits.

I experienced dealing with finality as I chose what to take and not take with us on our departure. It put some different priorities on what is important when we returned home.

I suspect the thoughts of finality will fade quickly for those who escaped home loss like us. We are already re-prioritizing without consideration of this possibly being our final day. 

Most of us who have gone through this twice take a little bit more learning away this time. Finality is closer to home.

-30-

 

Notes from the Southwest Corner Redux

A long time ago but after my completion of my Navy active duty in 1989, i began writing some special reports and special interest articles for my good friend Sam Hatcher and The Wilson Post as well as for the The Lebanon Democrat. These occasional articles led to Amelia Morrison Hipps, the editor of  The Democrat agreeing to my writing a weekly column for the OP-ED page. For several years, we added another weekly column we titled “Minding Your Own Business” — i always wished i had insisted on naming it the same as the unpublished book, JD Waits and I co-wrote with the title of Pretty Good Management.

For a while, a day or so after the OP-ED columns appeared in the paper, i would post them on this site. But that was long ago, remember?

In the past several months, i have slowly realized i was writing fewer and fewer posts about my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee. Lots of factors caused this, but i was not pleased.

In the last several days, i decided to re-post those “Notes from the Southwest” columns with the goal of…well, enjoying my revisiting my past, a rather ideal one no longer possible. i hope that readers of this site will enjoy them as well. My plan is to post one each week, but i currently reluctant to lock in just one day.

The below is the first one, published Monday, October 15 (my sister’s birthday it just occurred to me), 2007. i should add there were several more jobs, most notably with Pacific Tugboat Service after this column was written:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: My Connection
by Jim Jewell 10/15/2007

SAN DIEGO, CA – I live in San Diego. My home remains Lebanon.

I live here because I married a native, a rare breed when I met her. Yet I am more of a Middle Tennessean now than when I left for the Navy in 1967.

I like San Diego. In Tennessee, I cannot see Navy ships from the top of my hill. My home does not require an air conditioner. But Lebanon has a charm which won’t let go. I have said many times, the song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” describes my feelings.

I am torn between two worlds.

I probably have had more jobs than almost anyone. The Navy was largely responsible: I was a first lieutenant, anti-submarine officer, and shipyard coordinator for a sonar suite installation on a destroyer; executive officer of a Navy unit aboard a merchant marine troop ship; anti-submarine officer on a guided-missile destroyer leader; a destroyer chief engineer and shipyard overhaul coordinator; an NROTC associate professor; current operations officer for an amphibious squadron; weapons officer, overhaul coordinator, and training officer on an helicopter carrier; executive officer of a destroyer tender; director of leadership training, and facilitator for an excellence seminar. I was also sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times in New York between my first Navy obligation and reinstatement to active duty.

Fifteen jobs in twenty-three years.

Generating the list, I also considered other jobs I’ve had, starting at ten years old. This includes yard maintenance; newspaper delivery; water plant worker; grave digger; service station attendant; auto parts inventory worker; camp counselor; clothes salesman; sports writer; newspaper correspondent; and radio announcer. Eleven jobs in fourteen years.

After the Navy, I carried on job instability.

A life-long job was created when my wife gave birth to our second daughter the day I retired. In a little more than a week, I went from being a commander to “Mr. Mom.”

In this capacity, I chased more occupations: writing the first draft of a friend’s book about his Prisoner of War (POW) experience in Vietnam; organization development consultant; energy regulatory newsletter editor; facilitator for Department of Energy nuclear site reorganization; career transition consultant; automobile sales trainer; customer service trainer; business development manager; military training marketer; business management columnist; awards shop manager; and executive coach.

The jobs in this phase total fourteen, bringing the grand total to forty jobs. That’s pretty close to being a jack of all trades. I believe “master of none” also applies.

Underlying all of this flitting about have been three constants. I have a great love for my family, who remain my top priority. Lebanon has always been my home, and I remain connected. Finally, I have always had the desire to write.

This column attempts to tie the three together. “Notes from the Southwest Corner” is intended to give my perspective on Middle Tennessee, a recollection of my youth, and other thoughts I would like to share.

I want to describe places I’ve been and people who affected me. There will be some thoughts about running an organization and some “sea stories.” I plan to present similarities and differences between life on the “left coast” and in Middle Tennessee.

I won’t tell you HOW to do anything. Most of you are as smart as me and can figure it out on your own. I will refrain from political comments. Also, I don’t plan to make any religious pitches.

My goal is to write well for a place I love. I am shooting to give you anecdotes and thoughts which you can use as you see fit to your benefit.

From birth until 1967, I lived across the street from J. Bill Frame. He was the publisher of The Lebanon Democrat. He was one the most intelligent, knowledgeable people I have ever known. He was also kind, and understanding. The Democrat was journalism as I knew it then, and he may be the reason I have this drive to write. J. B. Leftwich, while a professor at Castle Heights taught me journalism.

So in a way, I have returned home. It is with joy I write for the Democrat. It is with pride I write where J. Bill Frame once ruled. It is an honor to write alongside J. B. Leftwich, who taught me and many leading journalists in the country.

Writing here is real close to coming home.

I hope you enjoy the read. I know I will enjoy the ride.

Giving Thanks

As i began copying this from my Lebanon Democrat columns, it occurred to me that many of you likely are giving thanks this will be my last “Thanksgiving” post this year. To tell the truth, i’m getting a bit tired of it myself. This column from five years ago is one of my favorites. You may recognize some of my thoughts from earlier posts. Even so, this column from five years ago is one of my favorites.

While i give my thanks, one will be for being where i can not worry about all of the craziness that has besieged us this year. i am old enough to observe it all with some sense of clarity, with no need for panic as we are relatively secure, and if we continue to be observant and careful, we can escape from the pandemic and not endanger anyone else. i am thankful you and i are in this country which, in spite of the disagreements of who and how, has the desire to become a better place for all of us to live.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Giving thanks (2015)

SAN DIEGO – It’s that week again: the one with the day to give thanks.

In the Lebanon of my youth, “Thanksgiving” was pretty much a stand-alone event. Sure, the children knew Christmas was a month away. Yet, we weren’t chomping at the bit. Until my late teens, a month was a long time. I was worried about being good, because that old man up north was “making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice.”

It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.

Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.

Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.

The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.

The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.

With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.

The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.  We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup. All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.

My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.

Everyone ate too much.

The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist. There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.

And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.

*     *     *

This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.

Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.

A Ride Down Another Memory Lane

This morning, i shared a photo of Col. JB Leftwich i had put on Facebook five years ago. The link attached to the memory doesn’t work. It was a Lebanon Democrat work and apparently, the new owners of the newspaper did not transfer older editions with Coach’s columns and mine. The below is my column from the bad link in the . As i said, i wish i could sit down with him on that back porch room and talk to him, with one of Glen Ed’s dirty martinis of course, and discuss the state of journalism, especially print journalism, and sports. He inspired this column:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: A ride down another memory lane

SAN DIEGO – After six months of pretty frenetic travel, my wife and I are back in the Southwest corner for what could be as much as three months.

I am not sure what to do with myself.

There are all sorts of things I need to do. This retirement thing is so full of medical checkups, administrative requirements, honey-do’s, home projects, keeping track of family and friends, and, of course, golf. Then, there is this column I write every week. I feel like the Haigha, the March Hare in “Alice in Wonderland,” running hither and yon yelling “I’m late, I’m late.”

As I mulled over all of this last week, I also attacked my “to-do” list. One item was to ensure my old files, contacts, and ticklers were not required from my last employer, Pacific Tugboat Service. Thursday, I gathered up my laptop and headed toward the bay.

As I drove down my hill, I decided to bypass the freeways even though I was late enough to miss the dreaded Southwest corner commuter traffic. I wanted to drive the roads that have been part of my life on and off for forty years. I took the back roads.

As I turned down my alternate route, the back way as we used to say, I thought of JB Leftwich, “Coach” as I and other journalists from Castle Heights called him. He wrote a beautiful column for this newspaper about 40 years ago. His path led from his home on Castle Heights Avenue through a winding route to the Methodist church, then on East Main next to the post office. Coach reflected on what used to be at various sites along his route.

Coach’s route was two miles. Mine was close to 13…so I drove. But I reflected on what used to be much like Coach must have done on his hike.

I headed northwest from Chula Vista to National City. Both were sleepy little residential bedroom communities when I first came to the Southwest corner. Both still have small pockets of small homes, typical of houses built in the 1950s. Chula Vista has grown into a major city in its own right and continues with continual development of the 100,000-acre ranch once owned by the Scripps family. National City is auto dealerships and industrial businesses with those residential pockets decaying and slowly giving ground to commerce.

When I reached the waterfront, I turned north on Harbor Drive. The Naval Station’s southern piers used to be for the Mothball Fleet. Decommissioned ships, mostly destroyers from World War II, silently held vigil over that end of the bay. They had been weather proofed for a possible later call to action. No one was on the piers except for a lone guard.

Later, the mothball fleet was mostly scrapped with a few moved to other locations. The Mothball Fleet is now located in Philadelphia, Pa.; Bremerton, Wash.; Suisun Bay, Calif.; and Pearl Harbor. Active ships, mostly amphibious ships moved to the southern piers. My favored route to work 30-40 years ago was through the back gate, opened only for a few hours at the beginning and end of the workday. The route was not well known, and I could slide in and out while avoiding the mass of traffic at major gates.

Driving north, I shrugged. Modern has replaced shabby. Training buildings, well-appointed maintenance facilities, and a dental command are where old boats and landing craft were strewn haphazardly in weedy lots on the “dry side,” inland from my route. Now the gates to the “wet side” are modern, expensive technical security wonders. Base security civilians and “aquaflage” uniformed security Navy personnel man the gates. Sharply dressed marines with snappy salutes were the sentinels back when.

Officer, chief, petty officer, and enlisted clubs have been replaced by a few and little-used “all-hands” clubs. The gate itself touts the new Navy. Just past the entrance is roundabout with a an impressive flag display.

The Navy has changed. Like it’s surroundings and entrances, today’s Navy is more efficient; more technically savvy; in its way, more pin-pointedly lethal; safer; and more politically correct. Until my latter years on active duty, it was ribald; labor intensive; a work hard, play hard bastion of…well, sailors being sailors. Today it is more a social engineering system, embroiled in political positioning and using weapon technology “platforms.”

In truth, it is a much better Navy. On my drive of memories, I accepted I liked the old Navy better.

World Enough and Time

Chores and book writing took a break this afternoon. The run/walk i planned has been moved until later unless i ditch the whole thing. So lots of thoughts floating around reminiscing about what was when.

Today, as i often do, i marvel at how i ended up writing so much. Don’t know why. Don’t even know where it came from. i do know that last gig as a journalist was a fitting closure to one phase. It could have been my last writing kick. But as i wrote in my last column for the Lebanon Democrat., it wasn’t my last writing, and i noted such in my final column. If it had not been for this burning drive i have to write this book i continue to pursue and i hadn’t stumbled on these things called “blogs,” a title i still do not like, it might have ended. But it didn’t.

It was fitting my time at the Democrat ended when it did. 500 columns, not counting several years of the business leadership column, just shy of ten years for my op-ed weekly. Sadly, new ownership took over my newspaper, the one that was truly “local” when i grew up, like the publisher and editor living right across the street local.

This was not the last column but it was one near the end, perhaps the penultimate one (i’m too lazy to look it up now). 

It was a great run.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: “World enough, and time”

SAN DIEGO – Second thoughts keep coming to me as we near the end of this gig called “Notes from the Southwest Corner.”

Amidst those thoughts is the daunting task of how to close these columns with grace. In one way, my recent respiratory problems gave me time to think about that when these words kept popping into my brain: “World Enough, and Time,” seeming to reflect the end of my era as a column writer.

“World enough, and time” was written by Andrew Marvel around the mid 1650s in poem “357. To His Coy Mistress.” It is considered the finest of Marvell’s poems and “possibly the best carpe diem poem in English.” In case you, like me need to look that up, “carpe diem,” Latin for “seize the day,” in its current use is defined as “used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.” It seems to fit.

In the poem, Marvell’s words also suggest how I feel about this upcoming closure: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; / And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity…” Yes, that’s close. Somewhere around my 73rd birthday in January, I decided the grind, albeit a tiny grind by most standards, of putting out a weekly column was producing columns of a quality not up to my standards.

As I have for most of my life, I remain a little defiant, resistant to forces even though some inevitable like time and distance. Part of me wishes to defy them, to keep on like Marvel “Through the iron gates of life: / Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.

But now, there is not world enough and time. This is coming to an end. Today I go back to the real roots of my writing and extolling those who sparked my real interest. It is time for me to move on make that old sun run.

My real writing began when I recognized I really wasn’t going to be the next Roy Rogers, Clifton Tribble, Johnny “The Drum” Major,” Doak Walker, Don Hoak, Roberto Clemente, or even Nellie Fox. That’s when JB Leftwich channeled my sports enthusiasm into print. Prior to that, J. Bill Frame had shown me support and understanding and much more so, the nobility of putting ink on paper.

At Castle Heights, Lindsey Donnell, Paul Wooten, and Tom Harris among others whetted my appetite for literature and writing. JB used his influence to land me a job at “The Nashville Banner” under Fred Russell, a three-year experience impacting the rest of my life. My sports writing idol Russell took me under his wing and gave me hope sports journalism just might work.

At Middle Tennessee, Richard Peck and Bill Holland allowed me to be creative within the bounds of academic requirements. Bill Holland was not only an inspiration but became a close friend. My writing for Holland and Peck remain my best efforts.

John B. Johnson, a close Vanderbilt friend and ground breaking newspaper journalist gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams as his sports editor at “The Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times.” Family responsibilities ended the dream, but I will always be indebted to “Yanch” for giving me the chance.

In 2007, Amelia Morrison Hipps took a chance on an out-of-town columnist, and this column began. Amelia, a newshound with a strict adherence to the stylebook, was my champion throughout her tenure. We have had and continue to have a terrific relationship.

Then Jared Felkins and I became co-conspirators in the realm of local newspapers. Being in the Southwest corner, I do not know if Lebanon fully appreciates what they have. Jared focuses on bringing you the most interesting and pertinent local news. Jared, in short, is a champ in local journalism.

I’m sure I have omitted a number of people who have supported me on my journalism journey. I apologize for the oversight.

The journey is not over. I will continue to write. Some of it may show up here. Nor will my, what do I call it, love of Lebanon fade away. I will continue to write of Lebanon.

My last thanks are reserved for you readers. This decade of writing was always worthwhile knowing you enjoyed my thoughts. It ain’t over yet. It’s just there is not “World enough, and time.”

Figure 1 J. Bill Frame, Fred Russell, and “Coach” JB Leftwich

Memorial Day Revisited

Each year at this time, i have written a post or a column about Memorial Day. One can become trite when trying to come up with something new or putting a new twist on any event. Such efforts, which fall painfully short in my estimation, are why i did not write a daily column when i was a sports editor. The only folks i know who could write a daily column about sports and not get trite often were Fred Russell, Grantland Rice (well, i didn’t really know him), Red Smith, Furman Bisher, and Jim Murray. 

So i ain’t gonna write anymore about one of the few nationally declared holidays i actually rever. Perhaps this day is so special for my military service has given me an understanding of the sacrifice so many made in defense of our flag, our country, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution. Regardless, it is special to me and i have written about it often. So for the next several days, i will revisit my previous thoughts about this day honoring our fallen heroes. This one is a column i wrote for the Lebanon Democrat. And thank you, Blythe, for giving me Siegfried Sassoon.

Notes from the Southwest Corner:
Memorial Day: the reason for it is unchanged

SAN DIEGO – This past week as usual, I received emails relating to Memorial Day.

Retired military officers send each other missives honoring our late comrades-in-arms around this holiday. But many of last week’s emails came from friends with no military service.

This increased interest in honoring our patriots who died in defense of our country gives me a good feeling, especially considering how it used to be.

As a junior officer, it seemed I carried some stigma because I wore the Navy uniform. It did not bother me personally, but I did feel separated from society, particularly my age group.

It also incensed me when protestors took it out on personnel returning from defending their right to protest. Regardless of the political posturing, those who received the abuse were no more responsible than me.

In my youth, I was awed by the World War I veterans honored at the various parades. I read enough to know of the horrors of trench warfare.

About two years ago, my oldest daughter gave me a copy of The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon. The poems are brutal and describe the gore of that war in grisly detail. Although some of the poetry is darkly beautiful, the overall effect makes one wonder at the logic of war.

Sassoon’s poetry confirmed my feeling about our heroes from that war.

The Second War

Born during the Second World War, I grew up respecting the previous generation’s sacrifice. I have studied pre-war history and am amazed so many can forget so much about where isolationism and non-intervention can lead. I wonder how many United States citizens might not have died had we joined the Allies earlier.

We do not learn from our historical mistakes.

World War II cemeteries across the nation and throughout Europe with thousands and thousands of crosses in military formation and the United States flag flying over them are testament to the honor we bestow on those military dead.

It became my generation’s turn. Initially as I was going through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, I was too busy learning steam engineering, small boat operations, ship handling, deck seamanship and damage control to be very much aware of what was going on the other side of the world.

But before I went to OCS, I learned Parks McCall, my big brother as a Kappa Sigma pledge at Vanderbilt, had been killed when his aircraft was shot down in Vietnam.

Later while at home after Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer training and en route to my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD-873), I found out Bobby Bradley was killed when his A6 with Bobby flying as Naval Flight Officer (NFO), crashed in the Atlantic.

Bobby and I played baseball together and were good friends for as long as I could remember, but I remember him most for volunteering to go on a five-mile hike with me so I could get a merit badge to advance from the Boy Scout’s tenderfoot classification.

Sacrifice hit home and my service took on an entirely new meaning for me.

Remember the Heroes

Over the course of twenty-one years in the Navy, there were very few incidents when I stepped into harm’s way. When I did, I remember them clearly. But overall, it was not much more dangerous than crossing a street in downtown New York. Others from Lebanon, like Bobby and Jim Harding, served in real danger.

Wikipedia, the on-line, open contribution encyclopedia, states General John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization, issued General Order 11 in 1868. The order designated May 30 as Decoration Day, which evolved into today’s Memorial Day.

So for almost 150 years, the citizens whom we honor for dying in defense of our freedom have grown astronomically. Even though more folks are honoring our heroes more than in my early Navy days, Memorial Day ceremonies compete with car races, picnics, and backyard barbeques.

But this morning in the Southwest corner, I will go to the top of my hill and raise my flag at 8:00 a.m. and back down to half mast as is the protocol along with all of the ships in the harbor doing the same, and I will pause and remember my friends who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, for me.

I hope you do something similar. Those heroes earned this much.

 

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

BONITA, CA – Last Friday, one regular golfer noted he had an Admiral Rickover story.

When I mentioned last week’s column and the midshipmen who broke his engagement only to be rejected by Rickover, my golfer exclaimed, “I knew that guy. He was my roommate at the Academy.”

The two stories were similar but took different twists at the end. When Rickover noticed the roommate’s grades had slipped, the midshipman confided his fiancé had moved to Annapolis for his senior year, a distraction, but his focus would be on nuclear power if accepted. Then Rickover used the ploy he had used with my story.

“Call you fiancé and cancel the engagement,” Rickover demanded. Doing as told, the midshipman called his fiancé with Rickover listening, he announced, “Honey, I just wanted to tell you I’m going to be an Naval aviator, not a nuclear submariner.”

Then there were two moments when I was A&M’s nuclear power advisor and in Rickover’s gun sight.

Texas A&M was renowned for it’s nuclear engineering program, and one NROTC cadet was a brilliant nuclear engineer. He held a 4.0 grade point average when I counseled him in preparation for the Navy’s Nuclear Power program acceptance process.

“Midshipman (name not included intentionally), I am sure you will get to the final interview with Admiral Rickover,” I commenced, “But I can find no commonality in Rickover’s interviewing techniques to tell you what you should say or do.”

“However,” I continued, “The one consistent thing I’ve found in all of the post-interview comments I’ve read is this: If you make a statement or respond to a question from the admiral, do not recant. When interviewees go back on a previous comment to the admiral, they are not accepted in the program.”

Concluding, I cautioned, “So I advise you to stick to your guns, no matter how hard the admiral tries to dissuade you.”

The young man went to Washington, D.C. and flew through the preliminary process. He entered Rickover’s lair in the late morning. When he refused to budge on a statement, Rickover sent him to the “waiting room,” a small room with a chair and a light bulb where he waited for several hours before being summoned again.

Again Rickover pressed him to recant his position. The midshipman refused. He went back to the room for a couple of more hours. The process was repeated into the late evening before Rickover directed him to stay over and see him again the next morning. After another round of refusing to budge and more time in the “waiting room,” the admiral finally asked the midshipman if he had been coached and by whom.”

The midshipman told the admiral “Lieutenant Commander Jewell” in the NROTC unit had given him some suggestions about how to respond in the interview. He was dismissed. Rickover picked up his phone and called the president of Texas A&M. The Admiral demanded his Navy staff, a.k.a. me, should not counsel midshipmen when they were to interview. Then he called the NROTC Unit Commanding Officer, my direct boss, Colonel Ivins. The next morning the colonel called me in and told me what transpired.

“And you know, Jim, Admiral Rickover called in the middle of supper,” he griped, “I swallowed my taco whole, nearly choked.”

The midshipman? He never made it to submarines. The nukes considered him so valuable after he was commissioned, they sent him straight to the research arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He never wore a uniform, but did very well.

Another prize midshipman was the regimental commander of the Cadet Corps, probably the first Navy cadet to hold the position. He also was brilliant and loved the Aggie Corps. I gave him the same direction, but it did not prove a factor.

Upon his return, he noted the interview went well until Rickover asked him what was entailed in being the regimental commander. The cadet told Rickover he was responsible for leadership of the 3,000 strong corps. Rickover mumbled something to the effect that was his job.

That evening, the TAMU president and Col. Ivins received their second calls from the admiral. “What the heck do you think you’re doing down there,” he screamed at the president, “You teach them nuclear engineering. I’ll take care of the leadership.”

The colonel got off a bit lighter this time. He didn’t swallow his taco.

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

Yesterday, i began a short Thanksgiving note to preface the column below. The note grew until it was longer than the column and covered a whole bunch of subjects. i have saved it for later editing and publishing.

Today began early. The turkey requires at least seven and one-half hours to smoke. We are dining at 3:00 p.m. Mathematicians, you can figure it out. i put the turkey in the smoker at 6:15 a.m., just to be sure and allow for cooling time. i have significant honey-do’s to accomplish before our guests arrive: a small, but cherished crowd of five will attend. Our sister-in-law Patsy, who makes me feel good, and Mike, who is a talented and nice young man will join Maureen, Sarah, and the goofy one. So this is my best wishes for you and yours on this day of giving thanks.

i will miss many but am glad they are with other family members for this day i find so rewarding. For that, i am thankful.

Thanks. Giving thanks. Not honoring some person, not celebrating past victories, or paying homage to those who have left us, not some holiday begun from a religious tradition turned to commercial glut (the ads in this morning’s newspaper weighed almost as much as the turkey i’m smoking). The turkey is in the smoker. The ads are in the recycle bin, unread. Just giving thanks.

My thanks are just too many to list here. But here are a few:

i truly am thankful for those folks who had the first Thanksgiving. Those folks who had the strength to escape tyranny for a not-so friendly land in a new world and the natives who befriended and helped them and how they worked together even with their differences to live with dignity and celebrate their togetherness (something we should be attempting to replicate today but sadly failing, at least right now).

i am thankful for our military members who are away from home this Thanksgiving. i missed six because of being at sea. i know the loneliness filling thoughts regardless how sumptuous the repast someone’s command serves up. 

i am thankful for my life. i’ve had a good one, crazy, a little off kilter, sort of all over the map in many ways, but it has been a good life i think. i’ve always tried to do the right thing, missed a couple of times, had my intent misinterpreted a couple of times, but overall, i think i’ve been on target most of the time.

And on and on and on.

The below column was written for my Lebanon Democrat weekly series which ran for 500 columns, just shy of ten years. It was published in 2015. i think it describes many of my feelings about Thanksgivings:

SAN DIEGO – It’s that week again: the one with the day to give thanks.

In the Lebanon of my youth, “Thanksgiving” was pretty much a stand-alone event. Sure, the children knew Christmas was a month away. Yet, we weren’t chomping at the bit. Until my late teens, a month was a long time. I was worried about being good, because that old man up north was “making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice.”

It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.

Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.

Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.

The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.

The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.

With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.

The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.  We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup. All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.

My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.

Everyone ate too much.

The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist. There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.

And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.

*     *     *

This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.

Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.

A Significant Weekend (from 2008)

In case you haven’t noticed, i have not been very active on this website for quite a while. To be honest, i have been a bit down about a number of things and just haven’t been ready to do much of anything except enjoy my life, my family, my friends…er, my bad golf as much as i can. After all, i’m working hard on making it to 76, and regardless of how you cut it, that is old.

i have  considered just giving up on social media and writing because, regardless of my intent, there are people who find something wrong with it. That, of course, is the way life works. Humans have some bad gene or something that makes them want to find something wrong with others My friend and former POW Dave Carey used to describe such people as those who like “to throw rocks over the wall” with no regard to who might get hurt on the other side. i often have the urge to throw rocks, but try to restrain and find out who those other people are on the other side and where we might find common ground. Several years ago, i vowed not to manage relationships and if there was anyone in my life who required me to manage the relationship, i would not do so. No dislike here. That just is their choice, and if they require me to make the contact, do the queries, whatever, then it just wasn’t meant to be. 

About a week ago, i changed my mind about the writing (but not managing relationships). i am really going to finish my book about my XO tour with the beginning of the “Women at Sea” program. i am going to resume frequent posts about my thoughts on now, memories, and previous writings not published here — being old, it is quite possible i will forget i have posted some of these and post repeats — all with the intent of leaving a legacy for my grandson Sam. This is not some chest beating boasting of what i have done. To the contrary, i have made numerous mistakes in my life. i am in a good place because of good decisions and my mistakes. One of my many regrets, as i have mentioned here before, is both of my grandfathers died before i was born. i never knew them and i often wonder what they were like, who they really were. Hopefully, Sam will have all of this stuff here to have some idea who at least one grandfather was. and maybe use my experience to his advantage. That’s it. And that’s enough.

Over the life of this website, i have posted 43 of my 500 “Notes from the Southwest Corner” in The Lebanon Democrat here. The rest will be posted here on a frequent basis, along with many, if not all of my other Democrat column, “Minding Your Own Business,” but under the category, “Pretty Good Management,” which i prefer.

In short: i’m back.

A Significant Weekend

SAN DIEGO – This has been a difficult column to write. Numerous things from my perch in the Southwest corner and far away in Lebanon made my past of  weekend (January 18-20), poignant with significant personal events.

Working backwards, Sunday was moving day. Our daughter Sarah, after a semester of commuting to San Diego State University from our home, moved into a dormitory for her second semester. I once again experienced the difficult art of letting go.

Her departure was rough on the old man. While many have experienced a child leaving home, my role as the at-home parent, a.k.a mister mom, and at a substantially older age than most parents, made Sarah’s departure particularly emotional.

The day before, Saturday, January 19, I became an old man according to the Beatles. On their “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band,” album, McCartney sang “When I’m 64.” I reached that magic number. Robert E. Lee reached birthday 200.

Friday, the beginning of this significant weekend, the initiating event was sad. My mother, Estelle Jewell, called to inform me Erma Baird passed away.

Mrs. Baird, her husband Charlie, and their daughter, Sharry Baird Hager, have been a part of my life, literally since I was born. Sharry, Henry Harding, and I were baptized on the same Sunday at the Lebanon First Methodist Episcopal Church South on East Main in the late spring of 1944.

Erma is one of my wife’s favorite people in Lebanon.

On one trip to Lebanon, Charlie and Erma came to call while we visited my parents. Mischievously, Erma smiled and said, “I have something for you.” She gave Maureen pictures of a play the Methodist Youth Fellowship produced when I was fourteen. Many friends were co-stars but somehow I had been chosen to play Jesus as a young boy.

Maureen focused on this goofy looking guy at center stage, complete with a page boy wig, knee-length toga, and madras Bermuda shorts showing underneath as he sat spread-legged on a stool. I am not sure Maureen has ever completely recovered from laughing at the photo.

Erma, of course, loved the reaction.

The women of the “greatest” generation, as labeled by Tom Brokaw, were an incredible group of people. Their role through the Depression, World War II, and its aftermath was the synthesis for change. They balanced being a housewife and mother with pioneering equality in the workplace. They were strong; they were supportive; they were always busy.

Erma Baird had all the characteristics of the women of her generation. She was also one of the sweetest, loving women who ever walked the face of the earth. It seemed to me she loved everybody and could always find something good about any person or any situation.

She was that way when I can first remember her in my life, and she was that way when I visited her just before Christmas.

Even though, I am some 2,000 miles from Lebanon, the impact of losing Mrs. Baird hit me hard.

In the middle of all of these significant events, my daughter Blythe informs me my grandson Sam has spoken his first words, “Kitty Cat,” and is obviously connecting the word to the two felines who reside with him. It was a big day for the Jewell household. We are informed of Sam’s “firsts” almost daily, but a baby starting to talk is a giant step.

Years ago, a great deal of this weekend’s events would have washed over me. I would have kept on “chooglin’” along as Creedence Clearwater Revival exhorted me to do.

But late that Sunday evening, I sat before the fading embers in the family room fireplace and reflected: The world continues to change with significant events. Letting go of children, getting older, losing friends who have completed life’s cycle, and welcoming new friends into the cycle is constant. If all of us can deal with the cycle as have Erma and Charlie Baird, my parents, and many, others of that generation in Lebanon, we will be all right.

Note: i would have included the photo here in this edition of the column, but Maureen was adamant i should not.